Over at Dimpost, Danyl wrote an interesting piece after seeing the video of John Key in the House saying that if Kiwi families find themselves needing to go to foodbanks it is their fault. That nasty moment was, Danyl thought, an eye-opener to the disconnect between how the political Left perceives Key – that dick in the debating chamber – and how much of the public does – that nice man doing funny stuff on the telly:
Almost every time we see Key he’s the exact opposite of the person Labour tells us he is.
Unless you watch question time in Parliament.
Key’s performance in Parliament is very different from the Key we see on public display. In this environment the Prime Minister is, basically, a sneering jerk who doesn’t seem to know anything about what his Ministers are doing, or care very much about the impact of his government’s policies, a great example being his statement yesterday that beneficiaries are people who made a ‘lifestyle choice’, a choice that seems heavily influenced by the record surge in unemployment that’s happened under Key’s government – yet another dire economic indicator that Question Time Key couldn’t really give a shit about.
This is how the Labour Party primarily experiences the Prime Minister – so their impression of him isn’t that delusional. The problem is (a) Question Time is an artificially adversarial, theatrical environment in which everyone involved looks far worse than they really are (I hope), and (b) the opposition are almost the only people in the country who pay attention to what happens in it. They’re like the children in a horror movie who know their neighbour is a vampire but can’t convince anyone else because it’s simply not believable.
Yes and no. Key is different in the House than when he is at a photo-op but this is just a manifestation of much deeper.
Danyl and others think that because we’re staunchly opposed to Key it’s because we hate him or at least his political persona, what Robinsod labeled all those years ago as ‘Brand Key’. But it’s not the brand we hate, it’s what the Key government does. Brand Key is only bad in so far as it allows the Key government to get away with doing awful things.
See, the Left, or at least the socialist Left, is very much a modernist project. We’re materialists – we’re interested in government and the political-economic system for the real impacts it has on people’s lives. We’re not much interested in the symbols except as they relate to the real world. Post-modernists care very much about symbols and little about the material world. Perhaps that’s mostly because they tend to be well-off and well-educated, so don’t have much in the way of material concerns themselves.
Brand Key is a post-modern exercise. It is about creating an image that people will like and it is not about associating that image with anything in the real world. The signifier and the signified are not linked.
Ideally, the Nats don’t want us to ask if Brand Key has delivered us what it promised (the ‘brighter future’). They just want us to buy the brand in the same as coke wants us to buy their product without asking if it really leads to us hanging out with sexy young people in the sun.
Many in the media are post-modernists. You don’t have to talk about complex interactions of markets, class interests, resource economics, and confusing statistics. You can tell simple, archetypal stories of warring tribes, goodies and baddies, winners and losers that the political animal inherently understands because it’s in our genes – symbols not substance. I’m thankful, though, that our media is not yet at the level of the US, were it becomes a ‘he said, she said’ argument between powerless talking heads accusing each other of some verbal faux paus, a million miles away from the real issue underlying the debate. Brand Key is designed for a post-modernist media and has been ably assisted by it for some time.
This post-modern/modern gap is evident in the left and right blogs, too. The Left blogs tend to be very heavy on research, facts, stats, citing studies to back up what they’re saying. Look at Marty’s work in particular. It’s about the real world. It’s about the impact of the government on the governed. Very modernist – the examination of cause and effect, backed by reams of data. You can contrast that to Kiwiblog or, indeed, any rightwing blog if you happen to bother reading them. They don’t argue from data, they focus more on personality politics – on building and destroying symbols – when they talk about the real world, they just make declarative statements. Or, Farrar’s case, just quote someone else’s declarative statements, write ‘indeed’ at the end, and call yourself a political thinker.
As modernists, we believe that a signifier signifying nothing cannot do something as real world as govern. And we’re being proven right. What we’ve believed would happen, and what has begun to happen over the last year and especially the last month, is that the contradictions between Brand Key and the real Key government would become too great. Eventually, and few would have thought it would take this long, the artifice would collapse and the real world where most people are worse off thanks to Key would assert itself in the political discourse.
It’s been a long wait but, by God, it’s happening.